Monday, October 21, 2013

A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Directions & Distances – Part V

Continuing with John W. Welch’s comments in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, in which he discusses Nephite placement of cities, the directions in the Land of Promise, and the distance across the narrow neck of land, and continuing with Chapter 52: “Directions in Hebrew, Egyptian, and Nephite Language,” with “Alma 22:27 on the east and on the west” as a sub-heading, he states:     
    9. If this way of translating directions did not bother the Egyptians, it may not have bothered their contemporaries, the Nephites.”
    Response: This is a mere guesswork and total speculation! This assumption is based solely on a situation created by Welch himself. He does not know how the Egyptians reacted to finding rivers that flowed in the opposite direction of their own Nile. Nor does he know that the Nephites had any trouble with their own river (only one mentioned), the Sidon, which, incidentally, also ran from the south to the north as did the Nile. There is no suggestion here that any of this had any impact upon the Nephites understanding of north, south, east or west.
    10. “Thus we can see that cardinal directions were not expressed by ancient civilizations in the same way they are by modern civilizations.”
The Nile River was and is the heartbeat of Egypt. Left: The green belt along the Nile shows where development took place anciently. Right: Lights of modern Egypt seen from space show that current settlement is till along the Nile River. It is a unique area and country oriented north-south with little or no east-west movement or settlement at any time
    Response: No, we do not know that cardinal directions were not expressed by ancient civilizations in the same manner as modern civilizations. What we do know is that ancient civilizations may not have even used cardinal directions--like in Egypt where upriver and downriver were their directions. They may not have even needed to express four directions since their world consisted of only two. All Welch has shown us is that the Egyptians referred to north in regard to their river flowing into the Mediterranean, as downriver; and to the south, as upriver. It does not show that they thought of the north as any other direction, nor is any of this support to show that the Nephites thought of north as anything other than north. It is not scholarly, correct, or helpful to create a problem, then use that problem to prove another problem.
     11. “We need to consider how the Nephites in fact labeled their geography, rather than simply to presume that north must mean the direction north as we now understand it.”
     Response: And why not? We have the word of several people, including a contemporary, Joseph Smith, that north was north as we understand it. Just because Mesoamerica does not agree with the directions given by Mormon and others in the Book of Mormon is no reason to claim the scriptural record meant something other than what it states. That again is poor scholarship. After all, the directions are not in question here—only Mesoamerica. One of the problems Mesoaemricanists have when they start making such claims about wordage in the Book of Mormon, is that they either do not know, or do not consider, how the plates were translated.
Lehi, Nephi, and subsequent Nephite prophets all had the Liahona (Alma 37:38), which obviously pointed out directions to those with faith. After receiving it, Nephi wrote that their direction of travel included both cardinal and ordinal directions (1 Nephi 16:13)
     In fact, most members believe that Joseph translated Mormon’s plates using the Urim and Thummim, a breastplate with two stones attached to it by a rim and apparently looked similar to very large, odd looking eye-glasses; however, that is not entirely correct. This instrument was within the stone box where Joseph found the plates, and undoubtedly was used to translate the first 116 pages, which Martin Harris lost, but at that time the Angel Moroni took away the Urim and Thummim. What Joseph Smith was left with, and what Martin Harris said he used because of the increased "convenience," was a "seer stone," which many of the early Church members mistakenly referred to this seer stone as the "Urim and Thummim." In fact, Joseph owned at least such seer stones in his life; a green one, a sandy-colored one, an opaque-white one, and a dark brown one. It was the brown one which was used during the translation of the Book of Mormon, and it was this same stone that Emma Smith, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Michael Morse, Joseph Knight Sr., and Isaac Hale saw Joseph look at inside his hat while sitting in a chair, apparently reading off the glowing text to his scribes.
     It is a common belief in the Church to believe that Joseph studied the "reformed Egyptian" symbols out in his mind, and then got internal inspiration as to what each symbol meant, so that much of the book was simply phrased by Joseph using his own words for things. But this is clearly a modern misconception. Obviously, Joseph had to study out the symbols in his mind (D&C 9:7-8), but according to the people who were there at the time, the reason that the seer stone was so important was because once the English words appeared in the stone, they refused to disappear until the scribe had written the words down correctly — including the spelling of the words! So, when the Saints back then said that the Book of Mormon was the "most correct book on Earth," they were referring to their belief that each and every word that was put down on paper came directly from the seer stone that Joseph used.
According to David Whitmer (left), "I will now give you a description of the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man." (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, p. 12).
     "Martin Harris related an incident that occured during the time that he wrote that portion of the translation of the Book of Mormon which he was favored to write direct from the mouth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said that the Prophet possessed a seer stone, by which he was enabled to translate as well as from the Urim and Thummim, and for convenience he then used the seer stone, Martin explained the translation as follows: “By aid of the seer stone, sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin and when finished he would say "Written," and if correctly written that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly it remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used." (Edward Stevenson, "One of the Three Witnesses," originally Deseret News, Nov. 30, 1881, later in the Millennial Star, Feb. 6, 1882, pp. 86-87. Stevenson would later become a member of the First Council of Seventy).
     Emma Smith wrote: "In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us." (History of the RLDS Church, Herald House, 1951, Volume 3, page 356, "Last Testimony of Sister Emma.")
     Joseph Knight, Sr., a close friend of Joseph, said, "Now the way he translated was he put the Urim and Thummim into his hat and Darkened his Eyes then he would take a sentance and it would appear in Brite Roman Letters then he would tell the writer and he would write it[.] then that would go away the next sentence would Come and so on But if it was not Spelt rite it would not go away till it was rite[,] so we see it was marvelous. thus was the hol [whole] translated." ("Joseph Knight, Sr., Reminiscence, circa 1835-1847"; see Dan Vogel's Early Mormon Documents, Volume 4, pp. 17-18. Spelling in the original)
And finally, Emma’s father, Isaac Hale (left), said: "When Joseph was translating the Book of Mormon [I] had occasion more than once to go into his immediate presence, and saw him engaged at his work of translation. The mode of procedure consisted in Joseph's placing the Seer Stone in the crown of a hat, then putting his face into the hat, so as to entirely cover his face, resting his elbows upon his knees, and then dictating word after word, while the scribes — Emma, John Whitmer, O. Cowdery, or some other wrote it down." (Saints' Herald, June 15, 1879, pp. 190-191).
     The point of all of this is to show that this translation of the plates was not a singular event of Joseph simply determining what English words to use and that they may or may not adequately convey the original meaning of Mormon and other writers. It shows without question that the words Joseph used were verified by the Holy Spirit, and if they were wrong, then they remained to be correctly translated. Thus, the Mesoamericanists, especially John L. Sorenson, who like to refer to the scriptural record as merely a text, and the prophets who wrote it as simply scribes, cannot say that words used in our English do not adequately reflect the original meaning.

(See the next post, “A Look at Welch’s Approach to City Placement, Direction & Distance – Part VI,” for more of this type of problem facing Mesoamericanists and how it is ignored in order to sustain and support their Mesoamerican model)

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